The French and the relationship with subtitles

When moving to another country you naturally notice the things that are different to where you came from, whether it was your home country or another country.  Something that I wondered about when moving to France, and I am still wondering about, is the fact that very few TV programmes have subtitles. Even many DVD’s are not subtitled. Not very practical for people with hearing impairments, people who are deaf – and foreigners like me.

Diving into some facts and figures I have found out that approx 5 million of the French population are deaf or have a hearing impairment (2010 numbers according to Unapeda, an organisation for parents. Another site claims there are 6 million people with a hearing deficit, but there is no source). In 2005, the « loi sur le handicap » stated that all main French TV channels should subtitle 100% of their programmes from February 2010 – they had 5 years to implement the law. From what I can see; they have not actioned on it.

Whether there are 5 or 6 million people with a full or partly hearing impairment, the numbers are substantial (it is more than the whole population of Norway!!). So, why did this law come into place this late and why isn’t it being put into practice as it should? The people I have asked don’t know, but I have read that the TV channels got complaints from viewers that the subtitles disturbed them. I know people who say the same if we put a video with subtitles. My conclusion is that it is a matter of habit, the French population has grown up with dubbed TV and reading subtitles is like all of a sudden starting to write with the left hand being right-handed. For the TV channels it is probably a question of costs as well.

This makes me think of a dilemma; why should the majority change their habits for the minority? In another situation, I would probably encourage a comprehensive debate around such a question, but in this case.. Well, frankly speaking, I don’t think this is a very difficult habit to change for the majority, and it makes a huge difference for the minority.  That’s inclusion.

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